Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham

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Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Issued as part 1 of a trilogy, Age of Ash is a satisfying read in its own right. Petty thieves drawn into myths and politics of a city built on hunger. Friends set against friends and our uncertainty as to who the good guys actually are. What's not to love?
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: February 2022
Publisher: Orbit
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0356515427

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We meet Alys under the most northerly of Oldgate's four bridges, she has a knife in her hand and a meeting that she dreads. Meanwhile the City of Kithamar is at a point in the turning of years when the worlds are at their thinnest and all things are possible. It is the night between the funeral of a Prince and the coronation of his successor. For a night the Kithamar is un-ruled.

The ruling of Kithamar is the heart of this tale, which is the story of the quest and the hunger for power – whose hunger that is will only slowly be revealed. The soul of the story, however, doesn't lie with the priests and the princes. It is to be found in Alys and Sammish and the other poor and misbegotten of the city. Every city has them and every city ignores them as best it can, given that much of the functioning of the place depends upon them and their all to human hunger for food, and family, and friendship.

We leave Alys at the riverbank, with the Prince newly dead, and go back to his coronation a year earlier where we find Alys and her friends working a pull. The word pull is used generically for a theft or a con or a money-making deceit of any kind. Alys's crew work the streets – although it's not her crew – she just gets brought in by others to do what she does best, which is to be seen, to distract. Her friend Sammish is also brought in to do what she does best, which is to not be seen, to be inconspicuous, unnoticed. Sammish is the walk-away, Alys is the flea – and Orrel, he's the cutter, he calls the tune.

Thus we're introduced to the life of the Longhill quarter of the city, where people get through the days and scavenge or steal what they need in order to do so.

Meanwhile, Alys's brother is involved with more dangerous people. He is working for the powerful and for someone who might be one of the same but on the other side…and Darro is foolish enough or ambitious enough or greedy enough to be playing both sides. That never ends well…and so Alys finds herself drawn into that world, away from petty theft and into the realm of magic smoke, and priests, and knives that are more than sharpened steel.

Age of Ash tells of what happens in that short year between a coronation and a funeral, back-tracking where necessary to explain why. It is the first in a trilogy, but succeeds where many such fail by being completely enjoyable as a stand-alone. One of my gripes with many part-works is that the set-up for the next instalment comes right at the end, and so the end is unsatisfying at best, and feels like a cheat at worst. Abraham manages to avoid this by placing the set-up for the follow-up very early on in the story in a very inconsequential detail that I almost missed. The result is that even if the follow-ups don't materialise Age of Ash stands as a satisfying read in its own right.

Like all the best fantasies (IMHO) it is set in a world where technology is limited and magic is infinite and wisdom is uttered in passing. I loved this…

Will is less than wind…You can't just decide to do the same thing as always, only better. It doesn't mean anything. Find what you did wrong, then make a rule to keep it from happening again.

The cast of characters is kept mercifully few, in terms of the ones we really need to pay attention to, and the network – the interconnections between them is sufficiently spiderlike for us to keep wondering whose side we're really supposed to be rooting for.

My one quibble is that for all the role the various quarters and courtyards of Kithamar play in the novel, I didn't really get a sense of place about them. The degree to which that matters depends on the reader, I guess. I ended up substituting a city I know quite well and re-assigning names and aspects, and then overlaying buildings from elsewhere. It worked. The story is plot- and character-driven anyway, so having to conjure up the place for ourselves shouldn't matter… except that Kithamar is more than just a city, and that is the whole point.

Looking forward to see how that moves forward in episode two.

If you enjoy this, while waiting for the next instalment check out The Dagger and Coin: The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham and the rest of that series.

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